Rare penalty-shot goal boosts Penguins
Depth is a component the Penguins hope to ride back to the Stanley Cup Final, and theirs was on display Tuesday night in a 4-1 win over the undermanned Detroit Red Wings at Consol Energy Center.
Speedy, role-playing wingers such as Chris Conner and Tyler Kennedy were as significant to this win as superstars such as center Jordan Staal and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
"Without a full lineup, we especially need players to add in what they bring," coach Dan Bylsma said.
Kennedy turned in one of his finer performances of the season. He set up Staal's opening goal early in the first period and the empty-net marker by left wing Matt Cooke late in regulation to seal the Penguins' third straight victory.
Kennedy has produced 22 points through 46 games -- a nice bounce-back after he recorded only 25 points in 64 games last season.
Conner wasn't with the Penguins much last season, playing in only eight games because of injuries to regulars.
An injury to veteran forward Mike Comrie helped usher Conner to the Penguins several months back, and his goal midway through the first period staked the Penguins to a 2-0 lead.
It also snapped a drought of almost exactly four years without a penalty-shot goal.
He was afforded the free shot on Red Wings goalie Joey MacDonald after being taken down by Detroit center Kris Draper at 11:29.
A few strides and a backhand shot later, Conner became the first Penguin since former winger Jarkko Ruutu on Jan. 20, 2007, to score on a penalty shot.
"I had a game plan before I went in," Conner said. "I usually stick to that one move. It's been successful before."
Fleury was not surprised to see Conner's display of one-on-one skill.
"I see him a lot in practice," Fleury said. "He's got good skills, good hands. He's very fast. I was confident he could score that goal."
The Penguins (29-14-4, 62 points) are riding a confident and clear-cut No. 1 goalie in Fleury, who stopped 36 shots and allowed two or fewer goals for the 20th time in 28 appearances dating to Nov. 12.
A right-skate save on Red Wings star center Henrik Zetterberg at 12:17 of the first period set the tone for Fleury, who Bylsma said is "playing very well."
"Very well" is what the Red Wings weren't, given a rash of injuries that left them severely short of their usual superstar-heavy lineup.
MacDonald is their No. 3 goalie, as second-year starter Jimmy Howard and two-time Cup-winning starter Chris Osgood are out with injuries. Same goes for elite two-way center Pavel Datsyuk, crease-crashing menace Tomas Holmstrom and a few other regulars.
The Penguins have won three straight -- no insignificant accomplishment, given the absence of NHL scoring leader and center Sidney Crosby for six games, with superstar teammate Evgeni Malkin having scored a goal in just two of 13 games.
The respective three-game goal streaks of left wing Chris Kunitz, now with 16, and Staal, three in only eight games, has helped dull the sting of Crosby's absence and Malkin's scoring struggles.
Kunitz and Staal are paid millions to produce in all situations, though. The same cannot be said of Conner and Kennedy, but they understand their jobs.
"We're playing simple and sticking to the system," Conner said. "We're getting pucks on net. It's paying off for us."